Wednesday, December 31, 2014

King Of The Hill: Favorite Releases Of 2014


Putting noteworthy releases from the past year in numerical order is a difficult and occasionally arbitrary process, but I’ve finally come up with a Top 40 List Of Favorites. With a few exceptions, all of these recordings were reviewed on Broken Hearted Toy in 2014. I’d like to extend my gratitude to all the artists, press agents, and labels that contacted me in regard to reviewing music, and I apologize that due to time constraints, I often wasn’t able to respond to your messages.

To make things easier, I’ve once again separated the Various Artists compilations:

7 And 7 Is Issued by the UK-based label Fruits de Mer, this box set contains seven 45 RPM singles. Each features a current band covering two songs by an American group from the 1960s.

 Postcards From The Deep A start-to-finish party album—also from Fruits de Mer. A roster of 10 modern bands take on familiar and obscure gems from the 1960s. 

Radio Ready Wisconsin - Lost Power Pop Hits 1979 - 1982 The indie label Cheap Rewards gives the Dairy State its due with this vintage power pop compilation.

ON XRT - Volume 16 Another impressive and eclectic selection of live performances that were recorded at Chicago area venues and aired on local FM station WXRT.

And now, on to my Top 40 Favorite Releases Of 2014: 

1. King O Prussia - Zonian Girls … And The Echoes That Surround Us All  An imaginative 20-song, loosely themed album that just might be this eccentric power pop band’s masterpiece.

2. Johnny Marr - Playland  The former guitarist of The Smiths continues his flawless solo career by placing socially relevant lyrics within 1980s style guitar and keyboards arrangements.

3. The Bangles - Ladies And Gentlemen. . . The Bangles This digital-only collection featuring their 1982 self-titled EP, rare tracks, demos, and live performances provides some essential puzzle pieces of how the band brought a 1960s pop sensibility to L.A.’s 1980s punk scene.

4. The Red Plastic Buddha - Songs For Mara The third and most adventurous effort from these Chicago club scene veterans mixes humor and mind-bending imagery within authentic psychedelic rock and roll.

5. U2 - Songs Of Innocence  Forget the backlash; the band was at full power with The Edge’s distinctive guitar playing and Bono’s multi-range vocals. A series of inventive arrangements support Bono as he observes current society with a mix of spiritual nurturing and unbridled frustration.

6. Dum Dum Girls - Too True  Singer-guitarist Dee Dee Penny excels at marrying angst to irresistible melodies. Her patented blend of 1960s twanging guitar and new wave tilts more toward the rougher edges of Depeche Mode and Bauhaus on this latest effort.

7. Kaiser Chiefs - Education, Education, Education & War Singer Ricky Wilson delivers diatribes against institutionalized education and industrial pollution with biting lyrics that echo Pink Floyd and XTC. A persuasive concept album that might have the potential to become an American Idiot type of theatrical production. 

8. Chrissie Hynde - Stockholm This first solo effort from the founding member of The Pretenders has the rock and roll icon breaking new ground while still playing to her strengths.

9. Secret Colours - Positive Distractions The youthful Chicago quartet continues to spin 1980s synth rock and the original British Invasion into catchy, hypnotic tunes.

10. Hushdrops - Tomorrow  The Chicago-based band ended a 10-year absence from the recording studio with an ambitious double album of enticing prog rock and psychedelia.

11. Aerial - Why Don’t They Teach Heartbreak At School? The first release in 10 years from this Scottish trio explores the transition from childhood to the adult world via clever lyrics set to energetic power pop songs.

12. Mainland - Shiner Young quartet from New York taps into the original punk era on this melodic and highly energetic four-song  EP. 

13. Paul Collins - Feel The Noise  The revered singer-guitarist embraced his power pop heritage on this collection of guitar-driven explorations of relationships and jabs at he music biz. 

14. Buzzcocks - The Way The first album from this influential English punk band in eight years still features the powerful nucleus of vocalist-guitarist Pete Shelley and vocalist-guitarist Steve Diggle.

15. The Psycho Sisters - Up On The Chair, Beatrice The long-delayed side project from Vicki Peterson and Susan Cowsill showcases their glorious harmonies as they vamp through Country and Western, pop, rock, and honky-tonk blues.

16. Mothboxer - Sand And The Rain Their fourth album is a collection of 10 smooth-as-silk Brit pop songs with gorgeous harmonies that evoke Squeeze and XTC.

17. The Mike Benign Compulsion - Here’s How It Works The Milwaukee-based power pop quartet continues to lace infectious melodies and gorgeous harmonies with acerbic observations on romantic relationships.

18.  Lannie Flowers - Live In NYC A showcase for Mr. Flowers’ power pop expertise, recorded with his band live at Brooklyn’s Trash Bar in the wake of Hurricane Sandy. 

19. The Kumari - Until That Day The London-based quartet returns to the 7-inch record format for another serving of authentic 1960s garage rock.

 20. The Safes - Record Heat  Their latest release shows these Chicago-based guys at the top of their punk/garage rock game.

21. Brett Newski - American Folk Armegeddon World-traveler singer-songwriter embraces and subverts the folk genre over the course of 10 acoustic-based tracks.

22. The Crush - Future Blimps Seattle-based coed trio evokes 1980s acts like Let’s Active and The Go-Go’s on this five song collection of catchy love songs. 

23. The Britannicas - Tea Time The international power pop trio plays catchy songs that draw inspiration from the British Invasion as well as American acts like The Beach Boys and The Byrds.

24. Rick Hromadka - Trippin’ Dinosaurs The Maple Mars singer-guitarist has a blast on this solo effort; doing all the vocals and instruments on catchy and clever power pop tunes.

25. Edward Rogers - KAYE  The veteran singer-songwriter dedicated this album to his hero, the late Kevin Ayers, and it’s an engaging collection of personal reflections and political views.

26. Jupe Jupe - Crooked Kisses  Several tracks on this third release from the Seattle-based synth band are over five minutes long, with atmospheric keyboards and ominous lyrics about everything from small-minded townspeople to cosmic disaster.

27. JIP - Last Call Chicago-based trio makes good on lead vocalist/chief songwriter Jim Gwynn’s mission to forge hard-hitting songs that evoke alternative rock bands from the 1990s.

28. Dead Fingers - Big Black Dog Husband and wife Taylor Hollingsworth and Kate Taylor Hollingsworth craft harmony vocals that are a bit off the beaten path, backed by easy-going Americana music. 

29. Go Time! - Rätsel An ambitious 19-track effort from this prolific Chicago band that explores the harder edges of power pop with inventive, energetic arrangements.

30. The JAC - Love Dumb EP Australian singer-multi-instrumentalist Joe Algeri of The Britannicas brings his offbeat perspective to infectious power pop tunes on this latest solo effort.

31. Bon Mots - Best Revenge The Chicago-based group once again shows its expertise in crafting fetching pop songs.

32. The Forty Nineteens - Spin It  The California-based trio jumps effortlessly from bluesy rock to Americana to new wave on this spirited follow-up to their 2012 debut.

33. David Bierman Overdrive - Standard Skies The Detroit-based singer-guitarist, who has been away from the music scene for 20 years, returns to his power pop roots while simultaneously driving full force into Country And Western music.

34. The Jeremy Band - All Over The World Veteran psychedelic singer-guitarist looks back on his career with this 20-song live retrospective.

35.  Sam Page - The Slog In Uncertainty The California-based singer-guitarist fires on all cylinders on his third effort, with vocals that sound equally impressive whether he’s singing power pop or bottom heavy funk rock.

36. Dann Morr - Shouting Into The Wind  The veteran of indie rock bands Wells-next-the-Sea and Mooner takes center stage with an impressive solo debut filled of well-crafted, melodic rock music.

37. Archie Powell And The Exports - Back In Black The Chicago band swapped its satiric power pop vignettes for hard rock and primal screaming on songs about the devastating effects of unrequited love. Well done, but I want the old Archie back.

38.  The Click Beetles - Wake Up To Music! Longtime power pop musician Dan Pavelich works under the pseudonym The Click Beetles for a solo collection of songs that recall his work with The Bradburys, along with some interesting experiments.

39.  Chris Wilson - It’s Flaming’ Groovy! The frontman for The Flamin’ Groovies opts for Southern rock and blues flavored tunes on this solo effort, but packs enough catchy melodies into his songs to please his power pop base.

40. Winter In Moscow - Well Done Mr. Creeper The London-based quartet brings a vintage UK punk sensibility to the seven short and melodic songs on its debut EP. 

Honorable Mentions: Other 2014 Releases That Put A Smile On My Ears
(In No Particular Order): 

Colleens - Wild Dreams 
The Legal Matters - Self-titled 
The Emperors Of Wyoming - Self-titled
Slow Buildings - Poison Condition
The Plastiscines - Black XS EP
Bronco Bullfrog - Time Waits For Norman
Feathers - Only One
The Toothe - Talons EP 
Icarus Peel/Mordecai Smyth - Barnburner EP     
The Squires Of The Subterrain - Self-Titled 
PT Walkley - Shoulders 
Roxy Swain - Restless Hearts
Bryan Howell And The Standalones - Welcome To The World

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Monday, December 29, 2014

The Persian Leaps - Drive Drive Delay


Drive Drive Delay, which officially drops in mid-January, is kind of a mirror image of The Persian Leaps’ critically acclaimed 2013 debut Praise Elephants. Both efforts are five-song EPs that evoke guitar-driven bands like Red Rockers and Icicle Works from the 1980s. The Minnesota-based trio, which has been around since 2012, also incorporates clever lyrics, power pop, and hard rock within consistently melodic arrangements. And like Praise Elephants, this latest effort from The Persian Leaps is flawless.

The energetic and mysterious “Fire Starter” conjures images of taking chances with lines like, “To prove that we mean it” and “Dance across the embers.” A similar idea surfaces on “(Goodbye To) South Carolina” as a West Coast guy advises his girlfriend to escape the “one-room-school-house mentality” of her rural origins and run away with him. The attempted seduction in the guitar-heavy “Pretty Boy” comes from the point of view of someone who’s awfully sure of himself and his looks.

The shimmering “Permission” is the longest song The Persian Leaps have released to date (most of their tunes clock in under three minutes), and it gives singer-guitarist Drew Forsberg, bassist-vocalist Brad Hendrickson, and drummer-vocalist Mike McCloskey a chance to show off their musical chops. It also entices with poetic descriptions of a new affair with lines like, “You had captured all the sunlight in your hair,” only to have this springtime romance end badly in Autumn. “Truth = Consequences” finds The Persian Leaps taking a more overt power pop approach, with clever lyrics that echo Jack Nicholson’s famous quote, “You can’t handle the truth!” from A Few Good Men.

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Friday, December 26, 2014

Slumgullion


It’s Big Ideas time again. Here’s an open invitation to Broken Hearted Toy readers to participate in a project that I’ve had a bit of success with in the past. On January 1st, I’ll present my annual Big Ideas list of people and the goals I think they will or should accomplish in 2015. It’s named after a terrific song by The Elvis Brothers and is usually a mix of facts, along with an occasional dollop of my imagination. I’ve also asked musicians, theatre groups, and other creative types to tell me the things they have planned for the coming year.

The change this time around is that you don’t have to be in any of the above categories to contribute. Anyone can send a message about what they hope to accomplish or something they wish a celebrity would do. In order to keep it positive, it might be best to steer clear of religion, politics, or sexual fantasies. Send your Big Idea in a brief email to: brokenheartedtoy@gmail.com

And now, here’s this week’s Slumgullion:

There will be a Holiday Hangover Benefit tonight at The Double Dour on  Milwaukee Avenue. The performers scheduled for the event are The Despotic Hall Of fame, Hood Smoke, Dave Miller (featuring Erik Hall of In Tall Buildings) and Miss Remember. Admission is free, but patrons are being asked to bring an unwanted holiday gift as a donation. All proceeds will go to Association House Of Chicago, a charitable organization dedicated to improving health and education in Chicago.

The 11th Annual Waco Weekend, featuring The Waco Brothers and opening act Hushdrops will be taking place at Schubas tomorrow night, December 27th.

Join the children by the million. The 10th Annual Alex Chilton Birthday Bash, “a night of music and mayhem dedicated to the songwriting genius” of the late power pop icon, takes place this Sunday night, December 28th at The Empty Bottle. This year’s lineup includes The Injured Parties, Roxy Swain, Scott Niekelski from Go Time!,  Certain Stars, Ego and The Soul, Evening Bells, Food And Drug, Allegra Malone, Me Jane, Mike Pecucci, Plains, Stoic’s Handicap, and The Van Goghs. The music starts at 8:00 PM; admission is $10. The Empty Bottle  is located at 1035 N. Western Avenue in Chicago.

Three bands will gather ’round the Festivus Pole at Durty Nellie's in Palatine this Sunday, December 28th. The all-ages show, which features Omega 3, Rough Draft, and Wett will run from 5:00 to 10:00 PM, and there is no cover charge.

Multi-talented Chicago rock veteran Ellis Clark and his new band The Big Parade will be celebrating the arrival of 2015 with a show at Mayne Stage next Wednesday night. The coed and unbridled rockabilly group Heeby Jeebies and the infectious funk group Liquid Soul also performing that night at Mayne Stage.

The Muffs will ring in the new year with revved up and catchy songs from their latest CD Whoop Dee Doo at Reggies Rock Club on south State Street next Wednesday night. White Mystery and Evil Beaver are also on the bill. General Admission is $25/$35, and the $50 VIP package includes dinner (alcohol not included) with a custom screen-printed poster and early entry. There’s also a $120 Red Chair VIP package available. 

Archie Powell And The Exports will close out a year that found them exploring a new, harder sound on their latest CD, Back In Black at the Cobra Lounge. The Noise FM, an indie rock/dance rock trio, and Ghastly Menace, a six-member experimental pop group, will also be on hand for this celebration. The music starts at 7:00 PM; tickets are $10–$15.

2014 isn’t the only year that’s running out of time. The 1968 Exhibit at the Chicago History Museum ends on January 4th. The exhibit explores the social, political, and scientific events of that explosive year, along with fashion, music, and other forms of popular entertainment.

The David Bowie Is exhibition at the Museum Of Contemporary Art in Chicago also closes on January 4th, but there are other Thin White Duke inspired activities going on around Chicago. Tributosaurus will Become David Bowie at Martyrs’ on January 3rd, and Sons Of The Silent Age will present throw a Bowie Birthday Bash at Metro on January 9th. Sons Of The Silent Age will be traveling up to Milwaukee for the Pablove Benefit, which takes place on January 17th at Turner Hall Ballroom.

Writer Leah Pickett recently did a short profile in the Chicago Tribune about a new cocktail called The Rose, which is currently being offered at Geek Bar Beta in the Wicker Park neighborhood. She explained that the “frothy $12 delight” is named after Rose Tyler, the first companion to board the TARDIS with The Doctor when Doctor Who resurfaced in 2005. One of the main ingredients is Two James Old Cockney Gin, in tribute to Rose Tyler’s Cockney origins. Pickett also noted that Geek Bar Beta will move to its permanent home in Lincoln Park some time in the coming year.

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Thursday, December 25, 2014

Hear! Here! For The Holidays


I still have the copy of Hear! Here! by The Hollies that I received on this very day in 1966 from one of my older brothers. I had asked for the “Stop Stop Stop” 45 as a Christmas present, and he must have figured that if I liked a single by this band I would enjoy an entire album. The jacket is now frayed and the vinyl has scratches but this is still a prized possession because I’m pretty sure it was the first album I ever owned.

Hearing those 12 jangling pop songs sealed my fate as a lifelong Hollies fan. A month later, I bought their Stop Stop Stop album (For Certain Because in the UK) with money I earned from shoveling our next door neighbor’s sidewalk after the infamous big snow of 1967. Even in my early teens, I was fascinated with the emergence of Graham Nash, Allan Clarke, and Tony Hicks as first-rate songwriters. (Their original compositions on Hear! Here! had been credited to the fictitious L. Ransford.) And of course, their harmonies were fantastic.

My tradition of wanting rock and roll for Christmas has continued throughout the years, and just this morning, I received a copy of Chrissie Hynde’s limited-edition Stockholm Live EP from my wife. I can’t wait to put that one on the turntable, but at the same time, I’ve got an urge to give Hear! Here! a spin and relive the joy of that 1966 Christmas Day. Happy Holidays to all my visitors here at Broken Hearted Toy.

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Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Post Of Christmas Past: The Hi-Fi Christmas Party Series


Today, Broken Hearted Toy offers a tip of the Santa hat to all the musicians and music industry people who have harnessed the power of rock and roll for the benefit of humanity. From big stars like George Harrison and Graham Nash to the local guys who see a comrade in need or a worthy cause that could use a helping hand, they deserve a note of gratitude. Especially at this time of year. Power pop musician/journalist/comic artist Dan Pavelich put together three Hi-Fi Christmas Party CDs over a number of years that benefited the Blood Center in Milwaukee. Each has been covered on BHT, but heres an edited version with all three in one post. 

Released in 2002, Hi-Fi Christmas Party was put together by vocalist-bassist Dan Pavelich to help fund research for Von Willibrand’s disease, a bleeding disorder that had stricken his daughter. This easy-going holiday compilation included contributions from several local and national power pop acts. Pavelich led his power pop band The Bradburys through the romantic and highly energetic “I Love It When It Snows!” The Jellybricks used a 1960s style arrangement on “We’ll Be Together,” and noted producer-performer Don Dixon contributed the bluesy “Christmas Is Saturday.” On the high-speed “It’s Christmas And I’m Going Home,” Rob P. & The Q’s depicted a city-dweller paying a visit his old home town.

The catchy “Christmas Morning” by Jim Babjak’s Buzzed Meg was pretty much The Smithereens without singer Pat DiNizio. Babjak’s signature guitar playing was evident, and he did a solid job on lead vocals. “Christmas Morning,” as well as Andrea Perry’s funny “Fat Aunt Bette” and Glowfriends’ spiritual “Joy Of Christmas” had also appeared on Ho Ho Spice, the 2-CD Hospice Awareness and Benefit Project. Phil Angotti’s acoustic-based “Getting Home (for Christmas)” cleverly mixed references to the three wise men, It’s A Wonderful Life, and A Christmas Carol. The Ted Ansani Trio featured the Material Issue member playing drums, bass, and vibes on a breezy, lounge style instrumental called “The Kriss Kringle Jingle.” Lisa Mychols paid homage to the girl group sound of the early 1960s with her “Listen To The Bells Ring” while October Elsewhere evoked The Kinks on their melodic “Christmas Every Day.” Other contributors to Hi-Fi Christmas Party included The Spongetones, The Lolas, Bill Lloyd, Jeremy, John McMullan, Dom Mariani, and Cool King Chris.

On Hi-Fi Christmas Party Volume 2, the focus was once again on original 1960s-style power pop, although The Elvis Brothers traveled back a little further on their very fun “Rock-A-Billy Christmas.” The harmonies and big production values on Lisa Mychols & Wondermints’ “Lost Winter’s Dream” were reminiscent of Leslie Gore’s Top 40 hits; and Husky Team, which included Smithereens drummer Dennis Diken, delightfully mashed “Auld Lang Syne” with “Green Onions.” The Grip Weeds’ “Christmas, Bring Us” evoked The Move and The Who, and Jeremy tapped into that same era for his spiritually inclined “It’s That Time Of Year.”

The Bradburys, with Dan Pavelich on vocals and rhythm guitar, used a melodic, mid-tempo arrangement on the romantic “A Christmas Wish,” and Sketch Middle sounded like Material Issue on the irresistible “Turtlenecks & Eggnog.” Rob Paravonian used high-speed guitars and quick-rhyme lyrics on the very funny “We’re Breaking Up For The Holidays.” The Spongetones took a gentler, acoustic-based approach with “Christmas Boy” while “King Of Kings” by Joey Molland & The Echo Boys featured the Badfinger vocalist-guitarist creating a Celtic flavored rock tribute to the Christ child. The Brothers Figaro Orchestra offered an unusual take on “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” that created the ambience of a Big Band era radio show.

Hi-Fi Christmas Party Volume Three followed in the amiable tradition of its two predecessors, with another selection of mostly original material. Lisa Mychols got the ornament rolling with “Joy Is In The Giving,” and Sketch Middle’s “Very Very, Merry Merry” had an energetic power pop buzz. The Jigsaw Seen’s psychedelic “What About Christmas?” was another highlight. The Click Beetles, a Pavelich side project with drummer Ed James; The Yule Logs; The Sun Kings; Jamie and Steve from The Spongetones; and Jim Babjak of The Smithereens also contributed catchy holiday tunes.

Pavelich invited a few non-power pop acts to join the party on Volume 3. Tinsley Ellis’s “Santa Claus Wants Some Lovin’,” which originally appeared on the Alligator label, was a clever blues romp, and Ash Can School channeled early Chuck Berry on “Christmas List Boogie.” The Brothers Figaro Orchestra went all the way back to the Roaring 20s for a swell take on the standard “Jolly Old St. Nicholas.” 

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Monday, December 22, 2014

The Little Secrets - “All I Need”


“All I Need” sounds like it could have sprung from the same fertile era that gave us “Pretty Baby” by Blondie and “Lust To Love” by The Go-Go’s. Filled with hand claps, “la la la” vocals, and a catchy guitars/keyboards arrangement, it has that enchanting feel of a 1960s girl group single spiked with a modern edge. But “All I Need” is actually the debut effort (available January 26th on iTunes and Amazon) from The Little SecretsThe Liverpool-based duo came together in 2010 when multi-instrumentalist-vocalist Kev Dixon spotted vocalist-guitarist Stacy Jo performing with a band at The Cavern Club. Both musicians cite Blondie and The Beach Boys as being among their major influences.

Stacy Jo sings lead throughout this mid-tempo gem, with Dixon coming in on the harmonies. The lyrics offer an ambivalent view of romance; undermining the song title with observations like, “So what’s the rush?/I never wanted much.” A second track on the band’s ReverbNation page, “Go,” takes a more dramatic approach, with keyboards and Stacy Jo’s vocals layered over a Motown beat. Both songs bode well for a full-length effort, but there’s no mention of that on the official press release. Dixon is quoted as saying, “We asked ourselves what kind of songs would we like to hear and set about writing them,” which hopefully means more music will soon be on the way from The Little Secrets.

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Sunday, December 21, 2014

Post Of Christmas Past - Carl Wayne's Hipster "White Christmas"


Back in the year 2000, Carl Wayne took over for Allan Clarke as the lead vocalist for The Hollies. Although the band hadn’t released an album since 1983, it still toured extensively throughout Europe. Considering that Clarke had one of the more distinctive voices in rock, whoever replaced him would be facing a huge challenge. Wayne never attempted to imitate his predecessor. As a founding member of the highly regarded English band The Move, as well as a veteran of the stage, he had the confidence to be himself. In the four years he performed with The Hollies before passing away from throat cancer, he established himself as “the people’s Hollie”— a performer who loved interacting with fans and bringing them closer to their favorite band.

In 2003, Wayne collaborated with the German synth duo et cetera on a CD with three versions of the classic holiday song, “White Christmas.” The disc was made available through Wayne’s website, and fans could choose between an English language version or a German language version. The singer autographed each copy with a gold ink pen. The “True Feelings Mix” and the “Radio Mix” have slower, keyboards-based arrangements that showcase Wayne’s deep, soulful vocals. They’re nice, but perhaps a little too mainstream for some rock fans’ tastes. The “Swing Mix,” which features horns, finds Wayne taking a peppy, hipster approach, and it’s a lot of fun. All three versions of “White Christmas,” along with other Wayne and et cetera songs, like “Blackberry Way” and “Sorry Suzanne,” are available on iTunes.

The Hollies themselves never recorded a Christmas song, even though their famous three-part harmonies would have been well-suited to the task. Plus, the band reportedly took their name from the fact that their first gig was on Christmas, in a club decorated with holly. They did engage in holiday revelry on British TV shows, but to my knowledge, none of that material was ever officially released. The closest I’ve found is “Julhalsning,” on the import CD, The Hollies - Swedish Hits And More. It’s a recording the band made in the mid-1960s for the blond-haired readers of Bild magazine, and features Graham Nash and the boys joking around and singing a very silly and very short version of — “White Christmas.”

Merry Christmas, Carl and thanks for all the memories.

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